A Perfect Match

UWS religious communities with faith and values in common join forces

16 Aug 2019 | 10:19

Two Upper West Side congregations will begin sharing a space this fall in a carefully planned arrangement that could become permanent.

Congregation Shaare Zedek, 212 West 93rd Street, whose new building is currently under construction, plans to leave its temporary facility at the Franciscan Community Center, 214 West 97th Street and join Kehilat Hadar, an independent that holds services at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan at 805 Columbus Ave.

In July, both shuls voted in favor of the proposal to begin joint operations. They will officially begin services together Oct. 26.

“Our two communities have a lot of overlap,” said Kehilat Hadar President Emily Scharfman. “We have similar core values, which is important.”

Shaare Zedek President Michael Firestone explained that when construction began two years ago on the new building – a modern 14-floor condominium with 20 residential units – the board at the temple began to look for another shul to merge with.

In their search, the board realized that Hadar was the perfect match, he said. They were both small congregations (combined they total around 150 members), egalitarian, do not have full time rabbis or cantors and are heavily rooted in activism.

“One of our core values is volunteerism,” Scharfman said. “People really get involved that way.”

This is not something that happened overnight.

In September 2018, the Board of Trustees of Shaare Zedek approached the Board of Trustees of Kehilat Hadar to explore whether both communities would be interested in coming together.

The KH Board appointed a task force to engage in discussions with Shaare Zedek to determine if a multi-year phased approach to integrate both communities would be desirable and feasible, both now and in the future. These conversations focused on the religious, programmatic, governance and financial aspects of both communities.

In December 2018, the task force completed its evaluation and presented it to the KH board. In January and February 2019, the board engaged the team leads of KH for feedback and appointed a dedicated team, chaired by Ashira Konigsburg and Emily Scharfman, to continue the conversations.

In the first phase of agreed-upon plan, Shaare Zedek and Kehilat Hadar will conduct “joint operations” as separate legal entities with their own boards and memberships. The two communities will hold Shabbat morning services together as a single minyan in Kehilat Hadar’s current location, and will coordinate on various other aspects of synagogue life, including children’s programming, adult education and chesed activities.

In the next phase, they will move into Shaare Zedek’s new building, which is replacing their West 93rd St. building and is expected to be ready by the fall of 2020. Finally, within nine months of the move, the members of Shaare Zedek and Kehilat Hadar will vote on whether to become a merged entity with a single board and unified membership.

Shaare Zedek will own three floors of the new building – the basement level, street level and second floor – with a private entrance and elevator. The street level includes a large multi-use prayer space, a smaller library/prayer space, restrooms, offices, and meeting rooms. The basement features a large open hall with side skylights, a warming kitchen, restrooms, coatroom and storage rooms. The second floor will have several classrooms, a pantry, restrooms, and a large private terrace where a sukkah can be built.

The leaders believe the potential merger has advantages for both congregations.

“If you look at the landscape on the Upper West Side for praying spaces, there’s no two synagogues or services or minyan for communities that really offer the same prayers and experience that we offer,” Scharfman said. “I think we both feel there’s a meaningful opportunity to come together and create a stronger community with more people that’s multi- generational.”

Firestone stressed that this is a win-win for everyone.

“Our numbers have been low,” said Firestone remarked. “I think there’s a lot of excitement about being in a place every Saturday where you’re surrounded by a lot of people. The potential here in the short term and long term is very significant.”